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World roundup: October 1-2 2022
Stories from Burkina Faso, Ukraine, Brazil, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 30, 737: The Battle of the Baggage
September 30, 1938: The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Nazi Germany sign the Munich Agreement, giving the Nazis control of Czechoslovakia’s predominantly German Sudetenland region. Depending on your worldview you may regard British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s actions here as either the most vile act of appeasement in human history, a necessary evil (that Chamberlain may still have handled badly) given that Britain was in no shape for a war in 1938, or the germ of a plan Chamberlain had to ally with Hitler against the Soviet Union. You decide.
October 1, 331 BC: This is the generally accepted date for the Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander the Great’s Greek-Macedonian army decisively defeated a larger Persian army and almost instantly gained control over the western half of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Persian Emperor Darius fled east hoping to recruit a new army, but he was murdered by his cousin Bessus, who proclaimed himself the new emperor. His reign was short-lived, as Alexander had conquered the whole empire by 329.
October 1, 1827: An imperial Russian army defeats the Qajars at Yerevan during the 1826-1828 Russo-Persian War. The Russians followed up by capturing Tabriz, the largest northern Iranian city, at which point the Qajars surrendered. Under the terms of the ensuing treaty, they gave both the Erivan Khanate and the Nakhichevan Khanate to the Russians. This essentially created the modern nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively, and ended centuries of Persian domination in the southern Caucasus—which would henceforth be dominated by Russia instead.
October 1, 1918: Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force captures Damascus, effectively bringing World War I to an end in the Middle East.
October 2, 1187: Jerusalem’s garrison, led by Balian of Ibelin, surrenders to Saladin.
October 2, 1944: The Warsaw Uprising ends with the Polish resistance defeated. Estimates vary, but over the two month conflict the Nazis killed upwards of 200,000 civilians and expelled hundreds of thousands more from the city. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 Polish resistance fighters were also killed against at least 2000 German soldiers (with several thousand more MIA).
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Sunday was the final day of Yemen’s twice-extended ceasefire, and as of this writing I have seen no indication that it’s been extended. Indeed, on Saturday the Houthis issued a statement saying that the ceasefire was at a “dead end” while blaming Saudi Arabia for failing to negotiate seriously over alleviating the humanitarian crisis in northern Yemen. There have been questions as to whether the Saudis were fullfilling their end of the ceasefire agreement the parties reached back in April, but there have also been questions about the Houthis’ commitment to their obligations—chiefly around alleviating their siege of the city of Taiz. There’s still time for a last-second (or beyond last-second) agreement to extend the ceasefire—according to the United Nations negotiations are continuing—but at this point I’d say it’s not looking great.
The Turkish military reported on Sunday that its forces had “neutralized” (killed) 23 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters in airstrikes on targets in northern Iraq. It later reported killing at least seven Syrian YPG militia fighters after some sort of artillery attack killed a Turkish police officer near the northern Syrian city of al-Bab.
Police clashed with protesters in Baghdad on Saturday as large protests broke out across Iraq to commemorate the anniversary of the country’s very large 2019 protests over corruption and political incompetence. At least 86 people were reportedly injured in the capital, including police and demonstrators. Given that Iraqi politics are just as corrupt and dysfunctional now as they were then, this weekend’s commemoration could spark a whole new round of protests, though obviously it’s too soon to make any determinations in that regard.
The US government, which has been mediating the dispute between Israel and Lebanon over delineating their shared maritime border, delivered a proposal for said border to both parties last week and early returns seem promising. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has expressed preliminary approval of the proposal. While the Lebanese government hasn’t commented, both Hezbollah and the country’s influential parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, have had nice things to say about it and that makes it unlikely that the official word from Beirut will be negative. Full details of the proposal aren’t available but one of the main considerations seems to be the Israelis giving up a claim on the Qana offshore gas field in exchange for royalties on whatever Lebanon extracts from it.
Israeli security forces shot and killed an 18 year old Palestinian man near Jerusalem on Saturday. The deceased was reportedly among a group of people who punched a hole in Israel’s West Bank security fence and began throwing things at the Israeli personnel. Israeli authorities are claiming that the group threw explosives and that their border police acted in self defense.
Islamic State fighters reportedly killed an Egyptian army officer in an attack on Friday near the northern Sinai city of Bir al-Abd. Egyptian security forces are reportedly in the midst of an anti-IS operation in that area. Several people were wounded in the attack but there’s no indication as to how many.
Kuwait’s government submitted its resignation to Crown Prince Mishal al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Sunday, a standard procedure following Thursday’s parliamentary election. The cabinet will remain on in a caretaker capacity until Mishal appoints a new one, which may not be all that different from the one that just resigned.
Protests over the death of Mahsa Amini stretched into their third week over the weekend and appeared if anything to actually gain strength—fueled, most likely, by the Iranian state’s violent suppression efforts. This weekend in particular saw heavy protest activity on college campuses as well as in several major cities. Additionally, protesters attacked the offices of the conservative Kayhan newspaper, which is closely linked to the Iranian government. The Iran Human Rights NGO now says that security forces have killed at least 92 people in the Amini protests and killed another 41 people in protests over a separate grievance in Sistan and Baluchistan province on Friday. Iranian officials say that five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were also killed in that incident.
Meanwhile, the US and Iranian governments may be engaged in a prisoner swap. Iranian-American dual national Siamak Namazi, who’s been in Iranian custody since October 2015, was reportedly given a one week (potentially renewable) furlough from prison over the weekend, which could be a prelude to an exchange. Additionally, Namazi’s father Baquer, who’s been in Iranian custody since he flew into the country to see Siamak in February 2016, has been given permission to leave Iran altogether for medical treatment. Baquer has been out of prison since 2018 for medical reasons but was prohibited from leaving Iran.
A group of women protested in Kabul on Saturday, demanding greater security in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack on a women’s education center in the western part of the Afghan capital. The death toll from that attack is now 35, most of them “girls and young women” according to the UN. The bombing, which was probably carried out by Islamic State, was a two-pronged attack in that it targeted women seeking education (in a country where private centers like the one that was attacked are the only educational outlet most women have) and western Kabul’s predominantly Hazara population.
Police efforts to control an unruly crowd at a football match in Indonesia’s Malang city backfired horribly on Saturday, leading to the deaths of some 125 people. Fans of the home team, Arema FC, apparently began throwing things onto the field after their team lost the match. Police responded initially with riot gear and at some point decided to fire tear gas canisters into the crowd. This triggered a stampede to get out of the stadium, which is what caused those deaths. Police officials are claiming that they had no choice but to use tear gas as the crowd was attacking them, though the use of tear gas in a relatively enclosed space is generally not recommended and FIFA specifically warns against its use during football matches. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered an investigation into the incident.
The leader of Burkina Faso’s former military junta, Paul-Henri Damiba, offered his resignation to the leader of the new junta, Ibrahim Traoré, on Sunday after the latter agreed to a number of conditions. His resignation presumably means an end to the tension that gripped the country over the weekend, as supporters of each junta faced off amid allegations that Damiba was plotting a counterattack with French help. Among Damiba’s conditions were guarantees of safety for himself and his supporters and a pledge from Traoré that the new junta would not alter the country’s timeline to restore civilian governance by 2024. Damiba has reportedly left the country, bound for Togo.
The allegation that Damiba was colluding with France to restore himself to power is interesting, inasmuch as there are indications that Traoré and his collaborators represent a faction within the Burkinabé military that prefers to seek the support of Russia and its Wagner Group contractor in the fight against Islamist militants. The Malian junta made the choice to go with Wagner instead of France to little apparent impact in terms of battling militants—Mali’s jihadist violence problem is if anything worse now than it was when France was Bamako’s main international partner. But it’s possible Wagner has found other ways to reward senior Malian officials. I’m not suggesting there’s any corruption involved, of course. I’m sure it’s all above board.
Chad’s ruling junta has agreed to postpone its transition back to civilian rule by at least two more years, stretching the deadline from this October until October 2024. Junta leader Mahamat Déby will remain in power but will dissolve the country’s current ruling body, the Transitional Military Council, in favor of an interim government that he can more easily pretend is civilian in nature. Under this new plan Déby will also be permitted to run for president in the post-transition government, which was inevitable.
At least 11 people have been killed in a new outbreak of inter-communal violence in central Chad’s Guera province. According to provincial officials a group of armed farmers ambushed a group of herders on Friday. Farmers and herders often come into conflict in central and southern Chad, where their communities overlap and where they’re often competing for arable land. Pastoral herders are increasingly being driven out of their traditional lands by climate change, which has increased the frequency of these sorts of clashes across Africa.
The upper house of parliament in the breakaway Somali region of Somaliland, the House of Elders, voted on Saturday to extend President Muse Bihi Abdi’s term, which was supposed to expire in November, for at least two more years. Somaliland’s electoral commission had previously postponed November’s election for one year, citing budget concerns, but it now sounds like even that timetable was too ambitious. Opposition leaders are already crying foul, claiming that Abdi is using the budget as an excuse to extend his time in power. Anger over the possible postponement of the election sparked violent protests back in August so there is the potential for serious fallout in the wake of this vote.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Suspected Allied Democratic Forces fighters attacked a village in the eastern DRC’s Ituri province on Saturday night, killing at least 14 people. Also on Saturday, a group of Tutsi Banyamulenge militia fighters reportedly killed a UN peacekeeper in South Kivu province after ostensibly having agreed to surrender their weapons.
Broadly speaking it looks like Latvia’s parliamentary election on Saturday unfolded as polls predicted, with Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s centrist New Unity alliance making sizable gains and the Harmony party, traditionally favored by Latvia’s ethnic Russian minority, possibly dropping out of the legislature altogether. New Unity is sitting at a shade under 19 percent of the vote, making it the largest party in the new legislature with 26 seats even though that figure comes in a bit under where the alliance had been polling. Harmony, which had been the largest party in the legislature prior to the election, looks tentatively to have finished under the 5 percent threshold for parliament seating. Its support among ethnic Russians cratered when party leaders came out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The result makes it likely that Kariņš will remain as PM, though nothing is set in stone yet.
The Ukrainian military has reportedly retaken control of the town of Lyman in Donetsk oblast. Ukrainian forces were close to encircling the town on Friday and over the weekend it seems the Russians opted to withdraw rather than risk having a portion of their army cut off and besieged. Lyman was logistically valuable to the Russian position in eastern Ukraine but the symbolism of this loss, coming right after the Russian government announced its “annexation” of all of Donetsk, may be more significant than its tangible impact. Prominent supporters of Vladimir Putin, including oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, expressed outrage over the Russian withdrawal, with Kadyrov going so far as to call for the Russian military to use tactical nuclear weapons against the Ukrainian military. Sounds very sensible.
Russian soldiers have reportedly abducted the head of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ihor Murashov. The facility’s owner, the Ukrainian firm Energoatom, is claiming that the Russians arrested him on Friday afternoon after he’d left the plant. Russian officials haven’t commented but the International Atomic Energy Agency says it reached out and was told that Murashov had been “temporarily detained to answer questions.” It’s unclear what questions he’s been asked or what “temporarily” means in this context, but there are fears that Murashov’s detention could make an accident involving the nuclear plant more likely.
Bulgaria’s parliamentary election also appears to have gone basically as polling predicted, with the conservative GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov set to come in first with around 25 percent of the vote and fellow ex-PM Kiril Petkov’s We Continue the Change party finishing second at around 19 percent. Which means there’s a real chance that lucky duck Bulgarian voters, who have now endured four elections since April 2021, may be looking at another one in short order. The problem is that no party has an obvious path to a coalition. Given the outcome it’s difficult to see any possible coalition that doesn’t involve GERB, but the party’s—largely Borisov’s—reputation is such that none of the other major parties seem willing to enter a coalition with it. There’s some chance that the parties will agree to call a truce, given the war in Ukraine and attendant economic crises, and form some sort of national unity and/or technocratic government, but who knows?
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Sunday also saw Bosnian voters head to the polls to elect a new parliament, a new three-member presidential council, and in the case of Republika Srpska a new regional president. The incumbent Croat member of the presidential council, Željko Komšić, looks to be on his way to reelection, while Social Democratic Party nominee Denis Bećirović looks like he’ll be the Bosniak representative. Bosnian politics are so badly fragmented by Serb separatism that the outcome here probably won’t matter all that much, though Komšić’s reelection could tamp down escalating calls for Croation autonomy within the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Russian firm Gazprom announced over the weekend that it’s halting gas deliveries to Italy. It’s possible this is a bureaucratic issue unrelated to the Ukraine war, something about authorization to transit the gas through Austria, but it could also be intended as a message to Italy’s incoming government. If so, it’s not much of a message—Italy has been pretty effective in terms of diversifying its natural gas providers and doesn’t buy that much from Gazprom these days.
Brazil’s presidential election, unlike Latvia’s and Bulgaria’s weekend elections, has deviated a fair bit from pre-election polling. The headline is consistent—former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will finish first in Sunday’s first round and will head into a runoff against incumbent Jair Bolsonaro later this month. But Bolsonaro appears to have significantly outperformed his polling and it looks like he will finish within five points of Lula once all the votes are counted. Polling had consistently put Lula’s lead in or near double digits, with an outside chance that he might win an outright first round victory. Presumably this calls into question all the runoff scenarios those same polls surveyed, which consistently favored Lula. It seems unlikely that Bolsonaro could overcome even this relatively small deficit to win the second round but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility after Sunday’s result.
The US and Venezuelan governments engaged in a prisoner swap over the weekend, with the Biden administration agreeing to release two nephews of Venezuelan First Lady Cilia Flores serving drug sentences in the US. In return, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro released seven US nationals, including five Citgo executives his security forces arrested en masse back in 2017. There are still at least four US nationals in Venezuelan custody. The Biden administration has been engaged in some low-level diplomacy with Maduro’s government for months now but without much tangible effect. It’s possible they could build on this prisoner exchange but we’ll see.
Finally, Jacobin’s Fernando Tormos-Aponte looks at the impact neoliberalism is having on Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery efforts:
Darkness enfolds the US colony of Puerto Rico once again. Large regions of the Puerto Rican archipelago are still without power and water, well over a week after Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 storm, hit the Antilles. On the ground, Puerto Ricans are grappling with a relief effort marred by privatization and neoliberalism.
Government officials no longer inspire much hope. Instead, ordinary Puerto Ricans are taking it upon themselves to clear paths, rescue families trapped by extreme flooding, share extension cords with those lacking power, and distribute water.
Many have been disillusioned since 2017, when they saw the post–Hurricane Maria cleanup plagued by inefficiencies and inequalities. In their eyes, establishment politicians are quick to celebrate aid allocations and slow to actually disburse it — or, even worse, simply channel aid to those who help get them elected.
Puerto Rico’s ruling class is once again playing with fire.
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